“Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life”

Oct 15 2010 by Kieran Westbrook, Dumfries & Galloway Standard

A woman whose life was turned into a chaotic mess of drink and crime for 20 years has told how Alcoholics Anonymous saved her life.

Emma was in an abusive relationship, well-known by the police and a frequent visitor to both the hospital wards and jail cells. And she only sought help once she hit rock bottom.

But that drunken cry for help turned her life around – and she hasn’t looked back since.

Emma grew up in England with her sister and brother.

She struggled to fit in at school and left as soon as she could.

Her first dealings with alcohol came when she was a child.

She watched drink take over her mother’s life as she became addicted to alcohol. It was a road Emma promised herself she would never go down.

But, by the time she was in her mid-teens, her life was already revolving around the demon drink. By this time she had fallen in love with an older man and was spending most of her free time in the pub with him.

Emma said: “I thought it was all great. I was drinking in the pub with Greg and it was great.

“I felt like I was all grown up – I was drinking vodka and pineapple juice. It was disgusting, but I thought it was dead posh.

“I was trying to be someone I was not!”

And that’s a theme that continued for two decades – Emma acting as she thought others wanted to see her.

She fell pregnant in her late teens and felt it would become the best thing in her life.

But she struggled to connect with her child and didn’t stop the drinking. This was one of two children she had with her partner. But with the scale of their drinking, it wasn’t long before the authorities tried to take her children from her.

Before that could happen, however, her mother, who had since cleaned up her own act, decided to bring up the children. It was hard for Emma to take, but it also gave her the freedom her addiction had been craving.

“It shows just how selfish I had become,” she said. “I was free of all responsibility and could go out when I wanted and drink when I wanted. I saw it as a good thing, in many ways.

“Looking back, I behaved terribly.”

Emma’s relationship with Greg was a highly explosive one. The pair would commit petty crimes to fund their drinking benders and were involved with the criminal underworld.

Greg was an abusive partner, but Emma was no angel either.

Her partner was once shot in the neck and he thought it had been her doing. After being confronted, Emma got into a drunken mess and phoned the police to tell them she had in fact ordered the shooting.

She woke up hung-over in a police cell and was charged with attempted murder.

But even this wasn’t a wake-up call for Emma. She said: “I got a real fright when that happened. It sounds funny to look back on, but it was pretty serious at the time.

“I told them that, because I was drunk, it was crazy! The police knew me and they were pretty sure I hadn’t done it.

“But they still had to interview me and treat me like a suspect.”

Emma was cleared of the offence. But her manic drunken behaviour was soon to lead her into even greater trouble with the cops.

In what she now sees as a dramatic “call for help”, she set fire to her own flat and went down the pub for a drink.

While she was there, she called the fire brigade to tell them what she had done before searching for Greg.

She drunkenly hunted for her man and attacked him with a pool cue.

It was a chain of events that landed her in the dock at the Old Bailey – on the charge of arson.

She said: “I knew this was very serious now. I had seen the outside of the courthouse when I had visited London, but now I was there for real.”

She was released on bail and eventually given two years’ probation after instructing her lawyer to tell the judge about her various problems.

By this time her mother had moved with her kids up to Dumfries in a bid to change her own life.

And it brought Emma to Dumfries, after discovering her mum had cervical cancer.

Emma battled to keep her drinking under control around her mother and kids, but secretly was still drinking excessively.

It got to the stage where Emma would strike deals with herself in her head – promising herself she wouldn’t have a drink before midday.

That soon became 10am and then as soon as she woke up.

She would drink between ironing clothes. It had a complete grip over her entire life.

She left her sick mum and children in Dumfries and headed to London for a weekend away.

It was especially drunken – and a night that would actually lead her onto the road to recovery.

She was taken to hospital and while in their care begged for help. She said: “I told them if they didn’t help me, I would jump in front of a train.

“I don’t know if I meant it, I had asked for help when I was drunk before. I don’t go to church, but I do believe in God.

“And something about asking for help, as drunk as I was, felt different.”

From then on things began to look up for Emma.

She spoke with a psychologist to discuss the way she was feeling about her life.

By the end of the meeting, she finally came to the realisation that she was an alcoholic.

And she was delighted.

She said: “Finding out I was an alcoholic was actually a great experience for me. Everything made sense to me for the first time. It’s an illness and I’ve been suffering from it for most of my life. Most people are upset when they find out, but I was so happy!”

Emma headed back up to Dumfries and started to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings there. She has had one relapse when her mother died.

But since then she has managed to get back on the straight and narrow and stay there.

She said: “Now my life has been completely changed around.

“I’ve met someone else and am in a great relationship with him now. I’ve been off drink for years and I have no intention of going back to it. Alcoholism is a disease and I went undiagnosed for years. I now give talks for AA and do whatever I can.

“I didn’t realise my life could be as good as it is now. I never thought I would get to be this happy.

“They have helped me change my life and I want to give back to them whatever I can.

“If anyone out there reads this and sees things in their life they recognise, they need to get help.

“Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life. I was one of the lucky ones – a lot of people die before they get help.”

Now at the age of 44, Emma lives in the Stewartry and has a good relationship with her children, who are now adults.

She hasn’t drank since May 2005.

The names in the article have been changed to protect anonymity.

For more information on Alcoholics Anonymous, call their helpline on 0845 769 75555.

©Dumfries & Galloway Standard

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